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John Lemon drink agrees to rebrand following legal action from Yoko

By | Published on Thursday 21 September 2017

John Lemon

A lemonade brand called John Lemon is being forced to change its name, which is a shame, because I think it’s a mildy amusing play on words. And – if there was any justice in this world – trademark protection would cease whenever a trademarked word is used in a mildy amusing way. Only mildy amusing mind, not full-on funny.

Yoko Ono is no a fan of puns though, so she got her legal people to send some stern letters to the Polish company that makes the lemonade drink and various companies who distribute it, including London-based Mr Lemonade Alternative Drinks.

Ono argued that the lemonade brand infringed the John Lennon trademark as well as her late husband’ personality rights, and was reportedly seeking damages of 5000 euros per day that the drink was on sale, and 500 euros for every bottle sold. Which seems ambitious.

A lawyer working for Ono, Joris Van Manen – also no fan of puns it seems – told the East London Advertiser that the lemonade sellers “were abusing and misusing the legacy of John Lennon to sell their soda”. In addition to the punny name, the lawyer cited various promotional efforts by the drinks company that also alluded to the one time Beatle.

Actually, the lemonade sellers registered their John Lemon trademark in Europe a couple of years before Ono got round to formally registering John Lennon’s name with the EU trademark registry, which – somewhat surprisingly – only happened last year. And the respective timings of those trademark registrations might have resulted in some back and forth had the case got to court.

When it comes to so called personality rights – which allow public figures to protect their name and identity – those don’t exist in the UK. Celebs who want to block unofficial products bearing their name or image who, for whatever reason, can’t rely on copyright or trademark protection, must instead sue for passing off, arguing that the unofficial product seller is implying endorsement and therefore misleading consumers.

We’ll never know what specific arguments Team Ono might have used had this case got to the Dutch court where the legal action would have taken place, because John Lemon’s makers have pledged to stop using the name, and to ensure all bottles containing that brand on the sticker will be well drunk before the end of October.

A legal rep for John Lemon said his clients had decided to settle in order to ensure their lemonade production wasn’t halted at any point, basically agreeing to rebrand their drink as On Lemon from November. They should have gone with Lemon & McCartney, to see how long it would take for Macca to get his legals out of the box.